Reimagining The Future Of Education

The institution of a Teacher & of Schools need to be overhauled

Education is not preparation for life, its life itself’ said the American Philosopher John Dewey. Extrapolating from his thoughts, a discussion on the Future of Education needs to be elevated to the discussion on Future of Life on this planet. At the outside, everyone seems to be really very keen & interested in the future of education. From political speeches to founders day speeches in institutions, from living room discussions to global policymakers - future of education finds its importance. Yet it somehow does not materialize into serious action to keep up with the times.

For this to begin to happen we need robust anchors to not let this discussion end up as usual - inconclusive, hopeless & helpless with the excuse of ‘too big to suddenly change’ and a future bashing & history praising or vice-versa exercise.

To start with lets anchor this by re-clarifying about what we mean by ‘Future’ and ‘Education’ in our contexts. The idea of the future as a possible distant reality has surprisingly stuck on even as inorganic transformations (the good and the bad) are happening at mind-boggling speeds. This is where I feel lies one of the biggest challenges for the future of education landscape across the world, more so in overpopulated and under-resourced countries. There is a need for this idea of the Future to shift from that exclusive, distant timezone for which we all need to diligently prepare in advance to an idea which includes whats unravelling around us at this very moment. Future is NOW! Its happening even as our minds are thinking about it.

Second, Education. The industrial age idea of education as a harmonious blend of knowledge accumulation, pattern replication and predictive application, although clearly redundant in the NOW, is still so deeply ingrained in us across societies that it still is the key-driver of main-stream models of education across most parts of the world.

The immediate question from a patient, interested and concerned member of these kinds of campus cafe discussions is ‘So What Next?’ Yes, we need a better model. Agreed. But which one? How can we develop that perfect one which works for everyone?

One Education System?

The first thoughts which come to my mind when we discuss our education system or the lack of it is as to why we should even have one? At least ‘The Elusive One’ which apparently can accommodate and take care of all the needs of an amalgamated nation or for that matter the world like ours. This is where I feel lies the foundational problem in finding solutions to the shortcomings in our learning delivery models. What is worth probing is if & how we can look at this ultimate system more as a true reflection of our nation & the world - A MOSAIC rather than a monolith.

How can we achieve this? Two key ideas!

  • Re-imagining the Institution of a Teacher.

  • Re-imagining Schools of Engines of Positive Change in their Local communities.


Re-imagining the Institution of a Teacher

In the public schooling space, various governments have explored and have been occupied largely with basic improvements with an infrastructural approach. The priority across most developing countries is to successfully pretend to be offering free & quality education to all. The reality is everyone's guess. The problem is again rooted in the industrial approach to education.

In the private space content & technology with the rider of replicability at a large scale have dictated the direction of progress.

The biggest collateral damage with this relentless pursuit of ‘one size fits all’ and ‘economies of scale’ approach to building learning models has been the Institution of a Teacher. Today the profession has been relegated to one that is for the non-achievers. Barring some insignificant aberrations, it is safe to say that this is now endemic in our education landscape. Unless we re-imagine the institution of a teacher and restore its societal recognition we are essentially building soulless frameworks.

Some Possible Solutions :

Teacher training & development programs need to be like executive courses offered in doses of short durations but over a longer period. This will tremendously lower the input costs of this career in terms of time, energy and money even as it maintains the critical continuum in the learning of the teachers themselves.

Government agencies should limit themselves to a broad regulatory role even as a major portion of the funding goes to Teachers across the spectrum of schools. With a good, motivated teacher learning can be delivered in deficient environments as well. The other way round is highly debatable. So effectively the agencies can divert their efforts towards improving the dignity and recognition of this institution of a teacher.

Private investments in education are currently limited due to an archaic regulatory environment - born out of what has been a compelling idea that education is novel, and should not be exploited for profits. This has precisely achieved the opposite effect. The triad of leverage-able loopholes, power play, and high capital requirements have made it virtually impossible for the real Teachers on the ground to have a buy-in in this seemingly exploding space. A collapse of these hurdles and mainstreaming educational enterprises can incentivize a lot of passionate Teachers to turn Entrepreneurs. We probably need a “Learn in India” campaign if we were to not only retain the smart brains but also the billions of dollars which take a flight out of the country. Who knows - ‘Teacherpreneurs’ can be the next big thing. If the cliched of coined words can be helpful in providing momentum and thrust, then this domain would do well to use it. Why not?!

Re-imagining Schools as Engines of Positive Change in their Local communities.

Albert Einstein famously said education is what remains after you forget everything taught at your school. Unfortunately, that is the result of an utter disconnection which does not facilitate immersion of the students in dealing with the real world problems, learning from which stays with one for a lifetime. The result is low ability to observe, diagnose and respond to these problems. We really think only when they are faced with problems. The key to leadership today is Adaptive Capacity - the ability to adapt to fast-changing and ever-evolving situations. And there are no better props for learning than real-world problems to develop this adaptive capacity in students. The schools across the world have a unique advantage to present these real-world problems to students and also be an active part of being solutions to then.

Picture this for example - Top 600 Schools in India by the net school fee converge about 1.2 million students. Their extended community with parents & family members will be about 6-7 million people. That population of India cumulatively owns a staggering 55% of India’s wealth. One does not need to stretch one’s imagination to see how much is possible if this community gets to be working and building careers. This can potentially be more effective than any mass-scale government projects. The key though is to align learning interests, careers & business opportunities to solve problems. And each of the worlds big problems are actually its biggest opportunities.

What if all of their homes go Solar as part of their learning? What if all their homes harvest rain-water? What if all of them grow food in their homes after gaining knowledge about the benefits? What if all of them adopt a healthier lifestyle - what would the impact of that on consumption patterns & costs, and its consequent impact on the environmental footprint. How much of their frozen wealth can move out to chase the aspirations of this 1 million if they are provoked to build better businesses and institutions?

It's not just the elite schools or the ultra rich who have this scale of impact to offer in terms of their schools and their influence zones. The over 1.6 million government schools & educational institutions in India converge more than top 25 cities in India put together. They also converge a large unused workforce busy working on their notebooks and some now on their notepads doing paper projects. If we can convert this potential to a real-world educational force there would be no parallel to this in the World.

We need to re-imagine these schools as potential Community Healthcare centers, as Urban Forests, as Natural Farms, as Energy Producers, Waste Managers, Water Conservers, Bio-diversity multipliers, Economic engines, Trend makers, Microcosms of our to be smart cities and as hubs of locally focussed-globally oriented minds - Global Citizens. And in this process, we will have the unique opportunity to provide true education to produce not just a bunch of solvers and inventors like we do now, but a Generation of Solvers.

And that's what we dream of - this Great Mosaic Model Education for the FutureSake! A wise sage from ancient times aptly counseled a king that ‘ If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain; a decade of prosperity grow trees and for centuries of prosperity - Grow People’.

Let's Grow People!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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